July 08, 2021 5 min read
Every industry, from fashion to technology, has an array of genuine products that are well-made and provide the desired effects that compel one into buying. iPhones (and their cases!) are extremely user-accessible. Rolex watches are flashy and enduring, and so on. Each of these products has earned its name as a brand for a reason, whether it be its quality, durability, beauty, utility, or other reasons.
There is a reason we call lip balm “Chapstick” and tissues “Kleenexes.” Both of these brands have fought to fulfill their intention better than any competitor. Oftentimes, alternatives – whether they are merely fakes or simply alternative options – have certain advantages that the name products don’t have. But more often than not, these advantages come at a heavy price in other areas of quality.
Like the above examples, there are many different types of leather. Genuine leather, while a very vague term, includes any leather that is sourced from cattle hide or other animal hide such as a pig. Of the different types of genuine leather, full grain leatheroffers the highest quality leather, unmatched by any other. This is because it comes from the top layer of the hide, thus possessing the most resilience to the elements. You can see the grain in the hide, giving it its name.
Moreover, full grain leather comes from the same hide without exception. Andar offers exclusively full grain leather products. On the other hand, with genuine leather, you rarely know what you’re getting. Frequently, genuine leather is a combination of different hides that are connected through sewing them together and then painting over them. So while it still passes as genuine, it is hardly the quality of full grain.
But besides full grain leather, there are leather alternatives or synthetic leathers, which are fake leathers that imitate the look, feel, and utility of real leather. What goes into these faux leathers? Are there different types of faux leathers? And what are its advantages compared to genuine leather? Do these differences warrant purchasing a faux leather product instead of a genuine one?
Faux leather or artificial/synthetic leather describes a collection of products often used in furniture, such as sofas, chairs, and headboards. They are also often seen in vehicular upholstery in cars and certain clothing items or consumer goods.
At a glance, these fakes look like real leather, and from a distance, it would be hard to tell if a couch was synthetic or genuine leather. Faux leather is made for a variety of reasons, but a couple of points include their cost efficiency and a market desire for vegan. Faux leather will always be cheaper than genuine leather (which may or may not be a good thing)
There are two main forms of faux leather that go into making the above products, so let’s briefly take a look at how vinyl and PU leather are made before explaining the similarities and differences between these faux leathers and genuine leather products.
Let’s dive right in!
Our first type of faux leather is called vinyl. You see it in a lot of restaurants and hospitals, and that’s because it’s incredibly stain-resistant and virtually waterproof. To make vinyl upholstery, reinforced polyester fibers are taken and coated with vinyl, or polyvinyl chloride and a plasticizer known as phthalic acid. This mixture is then melted onto the fibers, sealing them together. Because of this process, despite being essentially waterproof, it remains flexible rather than brittle.
It’s a versatile material, and while it’s obviously not leather, its cost-effectiveness allows it to be an important option for cafeterias, medical buildings, and other large spaces where cleanliness is of utmost value.
However, on the downside, vinyl’s temperature regulation is lacking. When in the sun, it becomes very hot and is uncomfortable to sit on. And if you’ve been to an older restaurant that hasn’t been able to replace their seating arrangements in a few years, you’ll notice that the vinyl surface cracks and looks less than desirable after a lot of use. Compare this to genuine leather (and especially full grain leather), and you’ll see that it looks even better as it ages, developing a diverse and rich patina.
Polyurethane leather (PU from now on) is constructed by taking a material like cotton or polyester. Adding a special coating (polymer) makes it more dense and durable. Obviously, cotton is not a durable material, but when coated with a flexible polymer, it becomes a leather-like substance.
PU synthetic leather is the closest imitation of genuine leather so far. It looks much more like a real leather product because if it bends, it wrinkles like genuine leather, which vinyl doesn’t. PU leather remains supple and flexible throughout use and is more sustainable than vinyl because it doesn’t require additional plasticizers. Of the two, PU leather is more expensive to produce but neither as expensive as authentic leather.
Compared to authentic leather, faux leather products, including vinyl and Pu, are more economical. They are the cheaper alternative because they aren’t made from animal hide. In some ways, faux leathers are more durable. They are more stain-resistant and thus avoid the dangers of wine or drink spills.
But they aren’t more durable in a lot of ways that matter. Due to their coatings, polyurethane leathers will ultimately crack and peel, whereas genuine leather products can be passed down for generations from parents to children and onwards. Yes, full grain leather products demand more care, but it’s in proportion to their endurance.
One of the advantages of faux leather is its ability to be produced. That is, it can be manufactured in any way the designer wants. This means that synthetic leathers can be produced that look incredibly uniform because they are the rendition of a previously planned pattern. Authentic leather will contain imperfections natural to the hide.
For fashion and similar industries, these alternatives can be made to look like just about any pattern one can imagine. And of course, this wealth of options is an advantage. But leather wasn’t intended to simply be a fashion piece, though it’s incredibly elegant and refined.
Leather, when sourced and processed rightly, speaks for itself without the need for an invasion by an exterior force. It is those natural blemishes and imperfections which make it uniquely remarkable.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a product is faux or genuine, but there are some significant signs.
Alternative products always have their benefits. With faux leather, greater stain resistance and cost-efficiency are worth the praise they’re given for these qualities. But these two characteristics don’t displace the incredible durability, resilience, and beauty of natural leather.
There is a reason that full grain leather has lasted throughout the ages, from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages to our modern day. Leather is a one-of-a-kind material, and none of the imitations today have the power to replace it.